Aviation and Special Operations go hand-in-hand. Whether it is rotary-wing or fixed-wing, SOF units have been using SOF aircraft to increase their effectiveness and lethality. Recognizing the lack of a dedicated SOF aviation program, NATO has decided to launch a training facility that aims to bring together the Alliance’s elite aviation units for training.
The Multinational Special Aviation Programme (MSAP) was launched earlier this month by Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia. It will be open, however, to all NATO members and partners.
During the opening ceremony, NATO’s Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Investment Camille Grand said that “The Multinational Special Aviation Programme epitomizes what NATO stands for – Allies achieving more together than they ever could individually. By committing to training the next generation of Special Operations Forces aviation crews in one place, you – the participants – are laying the foundations for ever more seamless joint operations.”
The location of the facility allows for a wide range of environmental training since it’s located near the Adriatic Sea, with its numerous islands, but also close to numerous mountain ranges.
The training center will open its gates to students for academic training in 2020; flight training is scheduled to begin sometime in 2021.
This is a long-due decision by NATO. SOF units from across the Coalition and its partners have been fighting together for more than two decades without the ideal interoperability. From the forests and villages of the Balkans, to the deserts and cities of Iraq, to the mountains of Afghanistan, NATO SOF have been relying on SOF aircraft to increase the success rate of their missions. American — and to a certain extent British and Australian — SOF haven’t suffered too much from this lack of interoperability. And yet more NATO SOF aviation assets would have resulted in more operations.
What distinguishes conventional from SOF aviation, particularly in the rotary-wing realm, is the ability of the latter to operate in the dark with pinpoint accuracy. That, of course, doesn’t mean that conventional pilots can’t fly in the dark. Rather, it means that SOF aviators are more capable to do so because of their specialized training and the technology fitted in their aircraft.
This is the latest in a series of initiatives aimed at improving the interoperability and effectiveness of NATO’s elite. Last October, four NATO members (Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia) and one NATO partner (Austria) signed a memorandum of understanding for the establishment of a regional Special Operations command. And in the summer of 2018, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands established a similar mini SOF command. Greece is also set to create a similar regional command by 2024.
The center’s syllabus is bound to include tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) from units like the American 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR), also known as the Nightstalkers, and the British Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW).
According to NATO, the center’s aim is to “increase interoperability amongst the participants, throughout the Alliance and with NATO partners,” with the aim of expanding the program’s scope as more members and partners join.